(Ismaila Chafe, NAN)
President Muhammadu Buhari has urged agencies involved in agriculture to include youth in driving modern methods of farming.
The president stated this in Abuja on Tuesday when he inaugurated the National Young Farmers Scheme designed by the National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) to elicit more youth interest in farming.
He assured all those interested that an enabling environment would be created for full participation.
According to him, agriculture remains the backbone of the Nigerian economy, being the largest contributor to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“We will do more to expand, modernise and revolutionise our agriculture, which is our most important asset.
“I have directed that all NALDA’s abandoned farm estates be retrieved to enable thousands of our young men and women to be engaged in farming.
“This administration will be achieving agricultural mechanization through this scheme and I am confident that Nigeria, under my watch, will achieve food security by producing most of what we eat.
“In good harvest years, we may even export our surpluses and earn foreign exchange,’’ he added.
Buhari expressed the hope that the resuscitation of NALDA would make Nigeria food sufficient and, in a few years, begin to earn more revenue from export of agricultural commodities.
“By virtue of my passion and desire for agriculture and also as a farmer myself, I am directly supervising NALDA as an authority under the Presidency.
“I am asking the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and state governments to give full cooperation to NALDA in its activities.
“With the success of Anchor Borrowers programme spearheaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria and new programmes to revive cotton, palm products and cocoa, the next few years will see a vast difference in our agricultural performance.’’
The president said that all the necessary approvals that NALDA required for effective take-off, beginning with areas of adequate land preparation for crop farming and livestock rearing, had been given.
He, therefore, charged the Executive Secretary/CEO of NALDA and his team to continue to live up to expectations and increase their activities in local communities.
“I am told that, so far, 4,333 families have benefited from this scheme and it is expected that many more individuals and families will benefit as the programme is rolled out.
“I now flag off the National Young Farmers’ Scheme. It is my expectation that the scheme will take in young Nigerians, graduates and non-graduates alike, and be part of government’s effort to reduce unemployment and contribute to the regeneration of agriculture and our economy.’’
The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, commended the president for his steadfastness in repositioning the agricultural sector since coming to office, opining that the country had already felt the impact of the policies of the administration.
He said there was a need to encourage agricultural agencies, like NALDA, to work closely with the research institutions in Nigerian universities.
The Executive Secretary/CEO of NALDA, Mr Paul Ikonne, said the discovery of oil in the country hampered the growth of agriculture and increased poverty in rural communities.
He assured the president that the concerted effort to revive interest in farming would tackle poverty and create wealth.
Ikonne said the resuscitation of NALDA, after close to 20 years of abandonment, would go a long way in reducing unemployment in the country, especially among the youth.
“Our focus is to engage 1,000 farmers from each of the 774 Local Government Areas, thereby creating 774,000, direct employment annually,’’ he added.
Goodwill messages were given by a representative of the Young Farmers, Fatima Usman Musa and Denmark Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Jesper Kamp.
Governors Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia. Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi and Mai Mala Buni of Yobe also participated in the event.